June 4, 2021

Designing Your Life

This is book is worth only a very quick skim to extract whatever tidbits might be relevant to you. This is my take and what I extracted with added personal elaborations. What can we learn about life by analogy to design? Design problems have many, optional solutions rather than one single, precise one. There are multiple potentialities within you all existing in the same ‘solution space.’ There are five design ‘tools’ described: curiosity, a bias to action, re-framing, process, collaboration. 

Design ‘Tools’

Curiosity I think of by analogy to riding a bicycle or becoming courageous: you learn to bicycle by bicycling, you learn to courage by couraging. You get curiosity by feeding ‘the blob’ of your curiosity, however small and subtle, which will grow into a monster ‘blob.’ 

Re-framing I think of philosophically: the questions we naturally tend to ask are limited by our underlying assumptions and methods. In order to ‘re-frame’, identify the principles implicit in your questions and challenge thembetter yet speak to smart people. An example of a common assumption that frames questions is that you must know in great, concrete detail exactly what you want rather than you must identify the abstract qualities that you like, of which there are many concrete manifestations which you haven’t seen yet, e.g., “Who do you want to be?” instead of “Who or what do you want to grow into?” or “What should you do with my life?” instead of “What direction should you go in?” or “You want a Swedish blonde with freckles who speaks Mandarin and Spanish and has a PHd in molecular biology” instead of “You want a woman who is ambitious, adventurous, honest and intelligent.” 

Process I think of simply as intelligence in dealing with the unknown to minimize cost (spiritual and material). The authors use the word ‘prototyping’ for this, i.e., testing, validating and iterating on the basis of feedback. The point of this analogy is to prevent one from spending more hours “figuring life out” than actually living life. Collaboration I think of as simply emphasizing that it’s not an option, but an essential ingredient in designing a solution to a problem (at least if we’re talking about career or lifestyle). 

Against Passion

Similar to Cal Newport’s argument. Most people don’t know what they’re passionate about. 

“There’s no singular motivator that drives all their life decisions and infuses every waking moment with a sense of purpose and meaning.”

If you’re not one of these people, then don’t take advice from them on finding your passion.

Success Disasters

This is when a person who is smart and unlucky ends up working on the wrong problem and because of some success early on they continue working on that problem before waking up 10 years later and asking themselves “what happened?” This is why it’s good to fail fast and cheaply

Gravity Problems & Functionally Unactionable Problems

Gravity problems are not actionable. In design what’s not actionable is not a problem. You can distinguish between the totally unactionable (gravity) and what’s functionally unactionable (low market demand for poetry) and then reframe the functionally unactionable. The goal is to free up your attention to solving problems that are actionable.

A Compass 

Your compass is essentially your philosophy. It is your view on work and life which should delimit the kinds of alternative choices you pursue. This should be explicit to prevent error and to help direct your choices and actions in a coherent way. 

Odyssey Plan

Rather than journaling about your life journal about your lives.

Posted in Book Summaries